What Do Custom Orthotics Do?
Custom orthotic inserts can offer several different functions, depending on their type and prescription. They can:
- Provide additional cushioning in areas that are in need of it.
- Stabilize the foot against excessive motion (such as overpronation, the foot rolling too far inward while moving).
- Guide the structure of the foot and ankle toward a more correct and efficient alignment.
Custom orthotics can be prescribed in various shapes and compositions to accomplish these goals. Inserts made for cushioning and support will tend to be made of softer materials, while those made more for alignment and motion control tend to be firmer.
What Does This Have to Do with Heel Pain?
Many causes of heel pain center upon excess strain or pressure placed on a certain part of the foot. Plantar fasciitis, for example, can occur when too much strain on the plantar fascia along the underside of the foot causes microtears and inflammation in the tissue.
It is possible to cause this damage through sheer overuse (such as running constantly without giving your body enough recovery days). It is also possible, however, that an abnormality in the structure of your foot is leading to excess stress being placed upon the plantar fascia (or another area) as you move.
Flat feet are a common example of this, as the lack of arch on the foot can place significant strain in certain areas. This can place you at much higher risk for an overuse injury or other painful conditions.
Custom orthotics can be designed in such a way that areas facing excess stress can receive additional cushioning and shock absorption. They can also help align the foot in ways where weight is more evenly distributed across the foot—as it should be—and provide injured areas a better opportunity to recover and avoid future injury.
In other words, custom orthotics can help keep your feet in conditions where heel pain is less likely to manifest or intensify. With use, and perhaps with additional treatments including stretching and conditioning, heel pain can be significantly reduced or altogether eliminated.
Are Custom Orthotics a Permanent Solution?
While custom orthotics can provide corrective guidance and motion control to the feet, they will not correct the structure of the foot itself over time. You should not expect flat feet or other conditions to disappear after enough time in orthotics.
Also, while orthotics tend to be refurbished and adjusted over time, you should not expect to just “not need them anymore” one day. In many cases, only surgery may correct a structural problem, and more conservative treatments are always preferred if they are effective!
All that said, orthotics can be an important key in preventing already existing structural conditions from worsening, and that is an essential effect to have over time.